Thursday, March 26, 2015

My thoughts on Clean Reader and Censorship

This morning, I woke up with a link to this post in my Facebook feed. Wait wait wait! Before you go, be warned that Chuck doesn't mince words and doesn't delete expletives. Still curious? Then by all means. I'll wait.




Back? Good.

For the TL;DR crowd:

And it's upsetting quite a lot of writers. For good reason.

From my point of view, if profanity has been placed in books, it's there for a reason. And no reason justifies someone changing any words in a book without the author's consent.

End. Point. Period.

This is coming from me as an artist, being upset at other artists' work being damaged. Yes. I'm calling this damage.

I believe that most authors publish wanting to feel like they've remained true to their original vision warts (and profanity) and all. Yes, that might mean that they don't sell as many books or that their books might not be as widely popular as other books. But it's not as bad as having rabid fans demanding books you don't like writing.

And sometimes, I wouldn't like the book I'm writing unless there's profanity in it. For no reason other than the fact that if I'm writing someone like, say, a battle hardened bad-ass with scars and emotional damage, having him say: "Gosh darn son of a buck" just won't cut it. Why?

Well this goes back to my whole belief about writing. This has come up before, and every time I DO bring it up, someone disagrees. (Which is fine. I'm lucky enough that the people who disagree with me are usually mature about it and that means we all still get along afterwards.)

To those of you who don't know, my point of view on writing is as follows:

Fiction writers shouldn't be expected to teach, preach, or lead anything except for (maaaaaaybe) thought. Yes, our art could do all that, but it's not our main mandate. Our main mandate is to 1) be true to ourselves and 2) create a world and story that's as real and visceral to the reader as possible (as determined by the story's needs.) 

Having any effort of creating this experience for the reader to be ruined (whether they choose to do it to themselves or not), completely goes against everything we writers are supposed to do in the first place.

As Chuck said in his post, there's a social contract between a writer and a reader. The reader has the choice of supporting our work or not. And we have the choice of putting whatever the hell we feel is necessary into it. If that means a reader or two thousand is lost as a result, so be it. But I don't see why we'd have to stand by and have our work butchered simply for the comfort of someone who shouldn't have bought it in the first place.

I'm not here to comfort anyone in my writing. I'm here to create stories. If you don't like my story, go buy something else. Point. Period. The end. You as reader do not, at any point get to dictate the look, feel and dialogue of my story without my permission.

Why not? Because of what comes next. There's a very small step between people telling writers which words are allowed in the story and telling them which types of scenes aren't allowed in the story. Yes, here, Clean Reader is painting this as the reader's choice. But the point is that if the reader is reading the book, he/she should be trusting that the stuff inside it is there for a reason. Because they are. 

After screwing up our books by taking out scenes, it's a small step to banning books for having scenes and words in them in the same place. For burning them for because they were written in a way someone just didn't like. Where exactly would this end?

Oh? Someone might say. It's not that bad. I'm just blanking out some words. 

No. You are betraying the social contract between the writer and readers. Once you start doing that, all bets are off.

Change my story and take out any of the dark/twisted/violent/profane or otherwise *gasp* challenging to you, and you've destroyed hours of dedicated work that I and/or my editors, crit partners etc have put into putting the thing before your eyes in the first place.

We writers don't expect much. We don't expect everyone to buy our stories. Hell, we don't even expect everyone to even like our stories. But when we do sell a book to you, we do expect you not to fuck it up. For whatever reason.

If you want to read something I've written that has profanity, but you don't like profanity, suck it up. If you're worried about your children reading profanity... get them to understand why their reading my books aren't acceptable to you.

But you DON'T teach your children how to be censors from a young age. 

Because this is exactly what this app was originally designed to do. And if it takes... if children do take to bleeping out expletives, because they weren't taught to respect the work, thought and time put into writing the book they're reading... we might as well kiss our artistic expression good bye, because the rest will be sure to follow. 

It's really that simple. 



  1. I agree.

    Thanks for coming by. We use these little buggers for fish bait but they are also very edible.

  2. I agree. They are messing with our work. If you don't like certain words, can't you just skip them as you read? Because I used to do that when I was a teenager. They didn't have that many young adult books around when I was a teenager, so I had to improvise. But I agree, let writers use the words they want. Brave post Misha!

  3. Here, here! I completely agree. I've made my obscene gesture at Clean Reader.

  4. I read Chuck's posts and yeah, I agree. People shouldn't be mucking with an author's writing without their consent.

    Sadly, I'm not surprised that its creators are from my area. I see this in people I interact with every day. Heck, even my own family have taken it to extremes where people aren't allowed to say the word "fart" in my brother's house. *eyeroll* It's ridiculous, but it's being ingrained in my nieces and nephews that these words are bad and shouldn't be said for any reason.

    Censorship is commonplace here, and nobody sees it as an issue because it's embedded into the culture. I don't know if edited songs are played on the radio in your area, but they are here. Profanity is blanked out or replaced. They've just taken it from music into books.

    And unfortunately, no matter how many valid arguments are made, I doubt it'll change anything. At least not within my lifetime. I have two children. My brother has six. The number of people who promote censorship over free speech just within my family are three to one. And most likely my nieces and nephews will have more children than my own do. Perhaps I'm being bleak and fatalistic. But the revolution isn't going to start in Idaho. And I'm living in enemy territory when it comes to the digital civil war.

  5. Completely agree. My writing usually doesn't have a lot of swearing in it, so when I do, the word is chosen to add enhance the emotion of the scene. When I was a teen, adults were always scolding not to use swearwords and as such I had friends who used them abundantly to be rebellious. Now, as an adult, I'm indifferent about swear words. They aren't on some high pedestal and that's what the creator's of this app are doing.

  6. The ability to change words in an authors work makes my stomach turn.

    I dabble in fantasy and some horror. And the occasional dip into dystopia. In my cuss filled world, this app would be portrayed as a gateway to thought control.

  7. It's not just the swear words is it? If an author puts them in it's because the character and situation call for it. If the swearing is unsuitable for or upsetting to the reader then surely the rest of the content will be too?

    There are lots of books without swearing - more than anyone can read in one lifetime, why not stick with them?

  8. When I was younger, I once read an "abridged" version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which didn't really have much profanity in it, but definitely had some scenes that were more for adults than for kids. It wasn't until I became older and read the unabridged version that I realized how much I had missed out on the original story, because those missing scenes were essential to the characters' development and the story as a whole.
    I admit that I don't like it when writers use a lot of profanity, but at the same time it's unrealistic for readers to expect all books to not have any profanity in them. We can't shield ourselves or kids completely from those things, especially because all we have to do is walk out the door and hear profanity being spoken everywhere. And I think it'd be much more realistic for people like doctors, cops or soldiers to say "damn" than to say "darn" when something really bad happens.

  9. I don't care if they remove my dirty words. The way I see it, if they paid for it, they can take a sharpie to it and mark out everything that offends them. I just don't want them coming to my house and marking out the copies I paid for.

  10. If swearing and profanity is upsetting readers and children and their parents and whatever. . . good luck in high school. Or even the grocery store. We just write down the real world. Also, I've never thought about this until now, but now I feel bad for musicians and their lyrics being bleeped out on the radio. That's definitely censorship, too.

  11. Wow! Thanks for linking to that post...I've now found another inspiring blog to follow! The very thought of this app makes me shudder. It goes way beyond (say) reading a book to a sensitive audience and judiciously blanking out the offensive bits as you go - which is perfectly OK. This handing control to a robot makes a complete nonsense of the writer's art.

  12. If I don't like the content of a movie, I don't go to see it. I don't alter a copy to cover up nudity, I don't bleep over words (oh wait, they do that on tv don't they). Die Hard is just not the same if it's, "Yippie kai yay..(bleep).."

    AKA I agree with you. Both on your subject and on Chuck's *ahem* eloquence. :O)

  13. I feel like people have a choice about what they read. If naughty words are so offensive, then people have the ability to put a book down. There were books that I didn't like some of the content, and I did a radical thing: I walked away from the book.

    You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

    I sort of feel like people who need to know how the ending goes, but can't handle the potty words, well, there are synopses for those. otherwise, read the book the way it was written.

  14. You're welcome, Gail. :-)

    Thanks, Murees.

    Christine, so have I. :-D

    Loni, I completely get what you're saying. It's sad that people can do stuff like this and think that THEY are right. Never mind who they disrespect and insult to do it.

    Patricia, I'm with you. I don't use curse words in all my books, but when I do, it's for a reason.

    Hahahaha Renee. That's exactly how I see it too.

    Patsy, you'd think that your way of looking at it would be common sense. But you know what they say about common sense? It's not all that common.

    Neurotic, that's an actual point. Who are they actually helping except themselves by making themselves seem "holier than thou?" No one.

    Elizabeth, that's a good point too. I just don't like that this is happening, though. Maybe it's my emotional side coming out. ;-)

    Madeline, I was actually also thinking about Radio edits when I wrote this. Half the time, it's so ridiculous. They'll play an entire SONG about say using drugs, but bleep out "weed."

    Ian, I agree.

    LuAnn, or how about: "Yippie Ka Yay, Mother Hugger." ? I mean, they're replacing bitch with witch, so...

    Rena, I totally agree. Like me. I'm a bit prudish when it comes to BDSM, so I just didn't read the book. When people talk about it, I just say I didn't read it because blah.

  15. I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I don't like to swear much myself, and certain specific curses (mostly varieties of G*d and J*sus) annoy me. Also, I've heard of people muting a profane rant from The King's Speech (which is what got rated R)so they could share it with their 10-year-old.
    But on the other hand, certain situations are going to provoke something stronger than "darn" or "heck". And in the majority of cases, just removing profanity from a story does not automatically make it kid friendly.


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